The majority of the 135 participants in the recent Pacific Rim Wild Salmon and Steelhead Conference signed a statement of principles for managing for sustained wild salmon reproduction into the next millenium. All participating nations were represented as signatories (Canada, Japan, United States and Russia). The statement addresses the need to: • inventory and monitor wild salmon stocks;
• manage harvests for escapements sufficient to sustain salmon ecosystems;
•reduce and localize hatchery and farmed salmon production;
•protect the remaining strongholds of intact salmon habitat and healthy salmon populations, and
•ensure that our land and water management institutions have the mandate to take wild salmon reproduction into account in their decision-making.
Atlantic salmon are endangered or critically at risk everywhere but in the northernmost portion of their range in the North Atlantic – Norway, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland. Pacific salmon appear to be repeating the south to north pattern of decline we have witnessed for Atlantic salmon, with almost no wild populations remaining in Japan and rapidly decreasing populations in the southern Russian Far East and many critically threatened wild populations from California to southern British Columbia.
Salmon recovery programs are very expensive and we do not yet have any proof that they work.
Our societies repeat over and again the same pattern of mistakes. First we over-harvest our salmon runs, then alter habitat through logging, mining, agriculture, dams and water diversions. Hatcheries are built to 'compensate' for declining salmon runs and spoiled habitat, providing an additional excuse to continue heavy harvests and land uses such as logging. In addition to facilitating continued over-harvest, hatcheries themselves reduce the fitness of wild salmon populations. Fishery managers in Russia are on the brink of repeating the same pattern of widespread industrial development and hatchery substitution.
In order to foster a sense of community across the North Pacific with regard to salmon survival, and to determine what basic changes we can make to arrest the pattern of Pacific salmon declines, we hosted salmon experts from Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States to:
• review the patterns of salmon status around the North Pacific
• examine place-specific salmon status
• propose changes to national and international salmon management regimes to protect naturally reproducing salmon and steelhead into the next millenium
At the conference, panelists from the regions of the North Pacific – Japan, the Russian Far East, Alaska, British Columbia and the American Northwest – demonstrated that there is a clear pattern of decline in salmon populations from the south to the north, associated with human population pressures.
Russian speakers expressed serious concerns about their ability to rein in the biggest threat to currently abundant salmon – overharvest and poaching. They also face the prospect of increased habitat alteration through logging, mining and oil and gas extraction.
Japanese speakers described their concerns regarding highly altered landscapes, and the accelerating decline of wild masu salmon stocks. Despite the existence of a series of conservation rivers for masu, preventing in-river sports fishing, fishery biologists have no legal tools to protect masu salmon spawning and rearing habitat. They expressed interest in working with the Wild Salmon Center to strengthen some of their wild masu reserves.
Alaskan salmon populations are still producing very large salmon runs, relative to historical harvests. However, some salmon populations, notably in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and Norton Sound, have declined dramatically in recent years. Although biologists do not know the causes, they suspect that the recent shift in ocean conditions to a less favorable Bering Sea ocean rearing state may be partly to blame. Native peoples have been particularly hard hit by the run declines in Western Alaska, because they are very dependent on subsistence salmon fishing.
British Columbia biologists were the only group able to base all of their salmon status reports on quantitative data. Although most salmon populations in British Columbia are still healthy, salmon are clearly at greater risk on south Vancouver Island and in the lower Fraser River valley. Canada has taken a very progressive stance in recent years, with the implementation of a new wild fish policy, the full shut-down of coho fisheries for several seasons and a selective gear program dedicated to minimizing by-catch of depressed coho stocks.
Salmon populations in the American Northwest face a host of threats from competing land and water uses. Many stocks are already listed under the US Endangered Species Act as portions of distinct 'evolutionarily significant' aggregates of salmon populations. Many others are locally extinct, particularly in California and the Columbia River basin.
S T A T E M E N T O F P R I N C I P L E S
To support the conservation of native salmon and steelhead stocks along the northern Pacific Rim in the new millennium
We the undersigned are concerned about the survival of native salmonid fish and their ecosystems around the northern Pacific Rim. As we enter the 21st Century, we believe that the nations of the Pacific Rim should embrace the following four salmon conservation and management principles. The adoption of these fundamental principles will give us the best chance of protecting wild salmon and the many life forms they in turn support, over the next 100 years.
Principle 1 We must inventory and monitor each native stock of salmon and steelhead and the quality of their environment.
Until we know how many salmon spawn in each river, where they spawn, the life history and genetic diversity of each salmon species, and if the salmon's habitat is changing, we cannot know if salmon populations are healthy or declining and if our actions are helping or destroying the fish and their river ecosystems.
Principle 2 We must harvest each salmon stock at sustainable levels and set and meet escapement goals that allow enough salmon to spawn naturally in the rivers to support salmon food webs and local peoples.
Until we harvest each stock at sustainable levels, we will continue to indiscriminately harvest immature fish and overharvest weak and endangered stocks. Until we set and meet escapement goals that let enough fish spawn naturally, we will degrade the health of stocks and starve rivers of the nutrients upon which everything from insects to bears to people depend.
Principle 3 We must reduce and localize the artificial production of salmon.
Fish hatcheries and fish farms threaten native stocks and the people who harvest wild salmon. By reducing and isolating artificial production and eliminating its impacts on native stocks, wild salmon and the people who depend on wild salmon will have a future.
Principle 4 We must protect the remaining native salmon strongholds while restoring threatened salmon stocks across the Pacific Rim.
We must aggressively protect the remaining strongholds for native salmon before they are impoverished by development. At the same time, we must restore degraded salmon ecosystems so they will once again produce wild salmon for people and nature.
Principle 5 We must work for institutional reform so water and land management agencies can effectively carry out these principles.
The institutions responsible for natural resource management have traditionally focused on short-term harvest and artificial propagation, instead of long-term sustainability. In addition, the responsibility for management of salmon and their habitats is fragmented among too many institutions, often with differing missions. For salmon to survive, we must work for meaningful institutional reform.
All Photos for this article provided by Steve Bechard
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